TROY SMITH: THE X-FACTOR
If you read my post from yesterday, you would know that I was almost right about my prediction regarding the OSU/Michigan game. Thank God I wasn't. You see, the one variable I forgot to factor into the equation was Troy Smith. It had been a whole year since he dropped 250+ passing yards and 150+ rushing yards on the Wolverines, and I had forgotten how spectacular he can be.
Today, I got my reminder.
Smith blazed the Maize and Blue for 300 passing yards--a career high--and accounted for two touchdowns, throwing for one and running for the other in OSU's 25-21 win. Most notably, he put together a highlight reel of two particularly dazzling completions on scrambles and a poised, athletic run for a crucial first down. I will always remember three plays Smith made today:
1. The scramble: With no one open and the Bucks down 21-12 with about 6:30 to play facing third down, Smith went to his feet. He gained seven yards in a burst of speed and eluded a Wolverine defender on the sideline like the mouse on your basement floor you just can't catch, even when it's backed into a corner. First down, OSU. The drive continued, and Smith would later find Holmes over the middle to get the Buckeyes back into it.
2. The 360 and toss: Early in the Bucks' final drive, Smith found a Wolverine lineman baring down on him after the fullback couldn't handle him. Smith stayed in the pocket, spun completely around to avoid the sack and fired a strike to Ted Ginn for a first down, again keeping the drive alive.
3. Deep to 'Gonzo': Again nearly wrapped in a pass rush, Smith sidestepped a host of defenders and lofted a perfectly thrown ball to the under-appreciated Anthony Gonzalez for a huge 26-yard gain with less than two minutes to play. Sure, Gonzo made a great grab, but Smith put it in a perfect spot. This play setup the go-ahead touchdown.
Beyond these plays, Smith's poise, leadership and well-thrown balls were Elway-esque. I would compare them to Joe Germaine in the '96 Rose Bowl, but they were better than that. His performance was simply unbelievable.
I predicted a 24-17 win for Michigan because I thought that the Buckeye offense would turn the ball over too much as they did in games with Texas and Penn State. I wasn't convinced this group had the composure to win in Ann Arbor. You have to give me credit for being weary about this. Two Buckeye fumbles--one from Maurice Wells and one from Smith (not his fault) on a blindside hit--and a severely shanked punt into the wind set up three of Michigan's four scores. With about seven minutes left to play, I was planning to berate the Buckeye's special teams for their less-than-Tressel performance. Not to mention, Ginn botched two punts and should be praying tonight that Michigan recovered neither of them. He has struggled with this all year, and the Michigan State game comes to mind. He is too much of a weapon to exclude from punt returns, but the coaches need to sit down with him and remind him to get back to the fundamentals. Catch the ball, brace for the hit and then take off behind your blockers.
What I didn't expect was Troy Smith to put the team on his shoulders. I didn't expect Santonio Holmes and Anthony Gonzalez to make terrific catches in the fourth. The Buckeyes answered the bell and played like champions today--a title they have earned. Sure, it may be a co-championship, but this season has been too successful for it to be forgotten in the annals of OSU lore. Quite the contrary, this co-championship will stand out to me as one of the most memorable teams in my span as a Buckeye fan.
It's time to enjoy this win and hope for a BCS bowl game. It's time to look ahead to next year and at the talent (Smith, Pittman, Ginn, Gonzalez) returning. It's time for the eternal pessimist in me to self-reflect on one thing: Since 2001, it's Ohio State 4, Michigan 1.
It's time for you to send me "told you so" comments. I deserve them, and I will be ecstatic to get them.